DUI/DWI litigation is one of the most complex areas of criminal law. Developing DUI/DWI expertise requires extensive knowledge of the law and procedure surrounding DUI/DWI litigation. Further, there is no substitute for DUI/DWI trial experience. Any lawyer can accept a fee and subsequently plea a case, but a true DUI/DWI defense lawyer will have a proven record of winning jury trials.
What part of their practice is devoted to defending DUI/DWI cases?
DUI/DWI laws and techniques in defending DUI/DWI's are constantly changing. What worked yesterday may not be the best approach today. It is important to find a lawyer who stays on top of current laws, trends, and what occurs in Courts everyday. Does your lawyer get his continuing legal education (CLE) hours at general seminars or do they concentrate their CLE's on DWI specific seminars? The better DUI/DWI lawyers get their CLE credits at specific seminars.
How many DUI/DWI cases have they handled?
Experience counts, especially trial experience! There is not a set number of cases or trials to say a lawyer is qualified to defend you, but a lawyer who does not concentrate a majority of his practice to DUI/DWI defense, and handles the occasional DUI/DWI, is unlikely to have the necessary experience to successfully defend you.
How many of their cases plead guilty?
Far too many lawyers plead their clients guilty without conducting any real investigation and before they litigate any pre-trial issues. In my cases, pleading guilty is the last resort rather then a first option, and never takes place until a complete and thorough investigation and review of all the evidence has occurred.
Additionally, prosecutors do not respect lawyers who plead their clients guilty without any investigation, but they sure do like them. Those lawyers make the prosecutor's job much easier. They also do not negotiate plea bargains with them because the lawyers often take the first offer. It is important that the prosecutors know that the lawyer representing you will fight for you and that he has a reputation for winning in trial. I have had many cases dismissed on the day of trial when the jury is outside the courtroom and I am at counsel table reviewing the jury list ready to go to trial.
Are they familiar with the breath test machine used in your state?
To the average defense lawyer, a breath test above the legal limit means "plead guilty" from the beginning, even though they will not tell you this until after the fee has been paid. To a true DUI defense attorney, a failed breath test in no way means you are, or will be found, guilty. Especially in a case involving a failed breath test, the lawyer's understanding of how the breath test machine works, the philosophy behind breath testing, and how alcohol is absorbed and eliminated from the body is often the difference between a guilty and Not Guilty verdict. If you are serious about being found Not Guilty, it is a must that your lawyer be very knowledgeable about alcohol and the human body and its affect on breath testing. Does your lawyer own a copy of your state's Breath Alcohol Testing Regulations? Can your lawyer tell you a list of the breath machines shortcomings off the top of his head? If the lawyer cannot answer these two questions positively, you may want to keep looking.
Are they skilled in the proper administration of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?
Most DWI prosecutions involve results of "field sobriety tests", some of which have been the subject of scientific studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, pronounced as "Nitsa") and police agencies who knew their work was being scrutinized. NHTSA has admitted that these tests, in order to be reliable, must be administered in the "prescribed standardized manner" each and every time they are administered. Any deviation from the prescribed standardized manner affects the tests accuracy and reliability.
It is essential that your lawyer know which field sobriety tests have been approved by NHTSA and how to determine if any deviation occurred when the tests were administered to you.
Also, your lawyer should have a copy of the police officer's student training manual for field sobriety testing. If they do not have one, you may want to look elsewhere. If they do, does it look brand new or used? That will tell you a lot.
Will they handle my license suspension case in addition to the DWI charge? Is there a proper way to handle the hearing on the suspension?
When you are arrested for DUI/DWI, you actually have two different cases as a result. One is the DUI/DWI and the other is the hearing on the suspension of your drivers' license (Administrative License Revocation hearing, commonly referred to as the "ALR" hearing). Many lawyers who do not aggressively defend DWI's do not handle ALR hearings. If the lawyer does not personally handle both, you may want to look for a different lawyer.
Many lawyers take the easy approach and will either not have a hearing on the suspension of the license or will conduct them over the phone by conference call with the prosecutor and judge. In most cases, the proper and most effective manner to handle these hearings is in person in the courtroom, and only after subpoenaing the arresting officer. This takes more time, but the lawyer gets to look the officer in the eye, determine if they would be a strong or weak witness for the prosecution
Will the lawyer I hire handle all aspects of my case?
Some lawyers take on too many cases and have associates or friends handle important aspects of cases for them. These associates or friends may not have the necessary knowledge and skill to effectively represent you.
What will a good DUI/DWI defense lawyer cost?
This is a very difficult question because every case is different. In general, the lower the fee, the less experience the lawyer has, and the greater your chances of being convinced by your lawyer that you should plead guilty. Some lawyers offer low fees with payment plans while other lawyers offer skill, experience, and a proven track record of winning. You usually do not find both in the same lawyer.
It's been said many times that; "Good lawyers aren't cheap, and cheap lawyers aren't good!" Often times a "cheaper" lawyer is actually more expensive! The lower the fee, the more affordable they are to the public in general, and the greater the likelihood they will have more clients than they can handle effectively. This means they will have less time to represent you and your chances of being convicted go up, and convictions are expensive.
Be sure you have a clear understanding of the fee the lawyer will charge, as well as what the financial penalties are for pleading guilty.